The 2016 election is already starting to heat up. It seems like we can't escape coverage of it even though it's more than a year away. But will it be a fair election? Could hackers really alter or disrupt the process?
The answer is yes. Advanced hackers could easily alter election results, political Web pages and public opinion of candidates. The reality is that elections are often won by fractions of a percentage so even the slightest manipulation could have devastating effects on the upcoming election and all elections to come.
According to Michael Gregg at the Huffington Post there are 6 big ways that hackers can effect an election, each as concerning as the next:
1. Rig a voting machine
It's easy to imagine a vicious hacker altering the votes on an electronic voting machine. They would just need the simple passcode that is used to access the information and they would be able to go in with their own bug and change what candidate that a person selected. It would be almost impossible to figure out what ballots were accurate and what ballots were tampered with by hackers.
2. Shut down the whole system
What would happen if no one could vote in the first place? It's not something that is completely out of the question! Cybercriminals could use a systematic distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack to effectively disable some or all voting machines. They could even use specified computer coding to stop the back-end voting servers altogether. Citizens would line up to vote only to be turned away because of technical malfunctions.
3. Fiddle with election records
If hackers wanted to, they could go into the election database and delete important data records, change the voting data or even insert fake records to get the results they wanted. This would be as simple as a few clicks of a mouse for an experienced cybercriminal but it could have lasting effects on politics here. Hackers could also delete voter registration forms so people would be blocked from voting at all.
4. Take over a candidate's website
It's already happened in Canada and it could easily happen here. When cybercriminals take over Web pages and online accounts, they announce their presence. This type of attack could be constructed so a hacker takes over a campaign website and sends out viruses or malware to visitors or direct them to an offensive site. They could just as easily alter text on the site to display something that would drive visitors away.
5. Dig up personal dirt
It's no secret that politicians are excellent mudslingers. It feels like every other commercial around election season is one candidate bashing another. Hackers could take this dirt-digging practice one step further, though. They could enter a candidate's personal smartphone, tablets, computer, email address or anything just as private from their campaign staff members. Who knows what they could find? Inappropriate use of funds, extramarital affairs, even dirty pictures! They could use this information to bash candidates and change the public's opinion of them in the blink of an eye. This type of information is like a goldmine to manipulative cybercriminals.
6. Aim for the donors
A large sum of money is needed to run a political campaign, especially a presidential one! That means even the slightest disturbance in an otherwise spotless career could send donors running for the hills. The release of embarrassing private information about a candidate from a cyberthief could be enough of a push to send the money men packing. Hackers could also target donors directly and threaten them if they try to support a campaign financially. Even just announcing that they plan to hack a certain candidate could be enough to scare away donors.
There is no real way to prevent a cyberattack on an election but if we know the possibilities now, maybe there are ways to strengthen our defenses before they even occur.